Did you know that over one in 10 Americans have diabetes? Because of the debilitating side effects of the condition, many of them rely on special medications to balance blood sugar levels and consistently produce insulin. Though it’s never fun to have to take a prescription, we’ve got some good news: Those diabetes drugs may have even more health benefits, including protecting the body from glaucoma.
In a recent study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, University of Pennsylvania researchers wanted to see if a popular group of diabetes medications called GLP-1R agonists (referred to most often as Trulicity and Rybelsus on the market) could also protect diabetics from developing glaucoma. Glaucoma, where the optic nerve in the eyeball is damaged by high blood pressure, is a common complication of diabetes that can lead to vision loss, especially without proper ongoing treatment. In fact, it’s the world’s leading cause of blindness. So, scientists wondered, what if these medications people were already taking could offer this extra help?
To look into this, researchers observed a group of 1,961 diabetic patients who began using GLP-1R agonist diabetes drugs for the first time as well as a control group of around 4,371 people who were’t exposed to these prescriptions. In the end, they found that the group of people who used GLP-1R agonists were half as likely to be diagnosed with glaucoma than those who didn’t.
Scientists are still investigating why this happens on a molecular level, but their previous animal-based research published in 2020 suggests that these types of diabetes drugs may reduce neuroinflammation within the brain and protect the eye from vision cell death. While they still have more work to do, the authors of the study believe that these GLP-1R agonist medications could potentially stop side effects of other common conditions, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative disorders.
It’s a promising start!